Like councils across the United Kingdom, Thurrock Council's Cabinet has discussed the future financial challenges ahead as it begins to plan to shape budgets for a post-lockdown world.
Modelling completed by the council indicates there is a budget gap of around £19m to close. Financial pressure has been caused by a variety of factors, including COVID-19 spending pressures and loss of earnings over the last 6 months, along with a pause to the investment approach.
Thurrock Council's reserve level have been increased by 131% compared to the level in 2016. Current investments continue to buck the trend and pay out at expected levels, which gives the council time to adjust the way it operates – not all councils have the benefit of this.
The pause to elements of the capital strategy is driven by reduced availability of new opportunities in the current climate, along with there being a review of what model will deliver the new homes targets as aspired by the council.
Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet member for finance, said: "Our economic performance before the COVID pandemic enabled us to build our reserves for a 'rainy day', and some of those can be used to help Thurrock deliver a service change for a post-lockdown world and support the delivery of a regeneration-led recovery.
"Our current investment portfolio has continued to buck the trend and pay out. Thurrock had always intended to build on previous reforms of the service it offers and become truly 'self-sufficient'. Simply, COVID and the economic pressures emerging, have led to an environment where we will now progress that objective faster than we would otherwise have done.
"We need to continue the work we have been doing to ensure Thurrock Council is self-sufficient and does not rely on Government revenue funding – but the financial realities in the post-COVID world will make that a more challenging task.
"We are looking at a council which is smaller and more rationalised. Residents have long expected that things wouldn’t stay as they were. The mission at hand is now to ensure that we continue to reform and invest in services which generate the best outcomes for our community, but more smartly than ever before."